Adam Fields (weblog) » Health entertaining hundreds of millions of eyeball atoms every day Mon, 08 Apr 2013 17:49:20 +0000 en hourly 1 Choose Real Food Sun, 26 Jun 2011 23:56:06 +0000 adam Here’s an edit I did of the new “Food Plate” graphic. I think this is more accurate.


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Sugar may be toxic, but that NYT article doesn’t demonstrate it. Wed, 20 Apr 2011 20:29:23 +0000 adam The NYT magazine ran this article on how sucrose is probably a poison that causes cancer and a whole raft of other ailments.

Unfortunately, the article is so poorly written and presents so little actual evidence that I’m shocked at the number of otherwise rational people who are simply taking it at face value. John Gruber, whose analysis I usually respect, writes “It’s not often that a magazine article inspires me to change my life. This is one.“.

Here are a few specific comments:

  • The article still perpetuates the assumption that high fructose corn syrup is identical to sucrose because they’re both made up of fructose and glucose. Setting aside the obvious difference that a 50% split between fructose and glucose is not the same as 45% glucose and 55% fructose (oh, but right – it’s “nearly” the same), sucrose is a disaccharide and HFCS is a mixture. Sucrose does easily break into glucose and fructose in the presence of sucrase, but the fact that there’s an enzymatic reaction there means that the rate at which it happens can be regulated. Sucrose and HFCS are different things, in much the same way that a cup of water is different from a balloon filled with hydrogen and oxygen, or a pile of bricks is different from a house. Every subsequent opinion in the piece that sugar is bad is doubly applicable to HFCS.
  • The article doesn’t actually cite any concrete evidence to support its hypothesis that sugar is toxic. It doesn’t even cite any sketchy evidence to support its hypothesis. Meanwhile, here’s a bit of recent research that suggests the opposite: “Female mice [getting 25% of their calories from sugars] that had been reared on the unbound simple sugars [(fructose and glucose mixture)] experienced high rates of mortality, beginning 50 to 80 days after entering the enclosure. Their death rate was about triple that of sucrose-treated females”.
  • Lustig’s Youtube presentation on which the article is based is fairly interesting. As far as I can tell, all it does it make the case that fructose is a poison in large quantities, that excessive amounts of sugar are worse for you than excessive amounts of fat, and that juice, soda, and “low-fat” processed crap that substitutes sugar (but primarily in the form of HFCS) for fat are responsible for the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Most of which is completely reasonable, although I think he ignores the sucrase regulation pathway, which is probably the most critical factor. But nowhere does he say that the body can’t metabolize _any_ sugar safely, which is the main thrust of the NYT piece, based on exactly, as far as I can tell, zero evidence. Lustig’s conclusion is exactly what it’s stated as at the beginning of the article: “our excessive consumption of sugar is the primary reason that the numbers of obese and diabetic Americans have skyrocketed in the past 30 years. But his argument implies more than that. If Lustig is right, it would mean that sugar is also the likely dietary cause of several other chronic ailments widely considered to be diseases of Western lifestyles — heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers among them”. It’s a long leap from there to the position that any sugar consumption is bad, which his argument doesn’t actually imply. Drinking a few cups of water a day is good for you. Drinking a few gallons is probably not so good.
  • Here’s an example of the kind of “argument” in the article: ”In animals, or at least in laboratory rats and mice, it’s clear that if the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat. This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and in the type of diabetes, type 2, that is common to obese and overweight individuals. It might also be the underlying defect in many cancers.” Of course, it completely ignores that the fructose does not hit the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed under normal circumstances, and it even flat out includes the counter-hypothesis that the liver is perfectly capable of metabolizing sugar up to a certain point with no detrimental effects.

Excess sugar is clearly bad. I accept that it’s probably even worse than excess fat. I don’t see even a small shred of evidence to accept the logical leap presented in this article that eating a cookie will increase your cancer risk in any meaningful way. Absolutely, we need to study this more. Concluding that sugar is toxic in normal quantities based on the available evidence is ridiculous. Despite the indecision in the article, it’s not hard to define “normal quantities”. I’m the first to agree that the current “sugar in everything” trend in packaged food is bad, and it’s important to check the nutritional labels. HFCS has no business being in bread. The brands you grew up with are not indicators of quality. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if your food has a nutritional label at all, you’re already at a disadvantage.

Eat more whole foods. Stop taking your calories in liquid form. Cooking at home is different. Change your food chain.


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Some thoughts on salad Mon, 24 Jan 2011 18:46:13 +0000 adam A few years ago, I decided to eat a salad for lunch at least 5 days a week. It’s a great way to make sure you get a lot of vegetables, and if you do it right, it’s very satisfying. I didn’t want to do Bittman’s “vegan before 6pm” diet, but this is a similar approach. It also takes a lot of the guesswork out of what I’ll have for lunch on any given day. I usually make my own. If you’re on the go, Fit & Fresh makes a very convenient shaker container with a dressing compartment and a removable ice pack.

For me, a salad is at minimum: a green leafy vegetable (lettuce or spinach), cucumber, some sort of tomato, and dressing. Everything else is optional, but I try to mix in at least one ingredient from the following categories. The key is getting a range of interlocking textures and complementary flavors. Buy the best ingredients you can find.

Lettuce: I usually use a heartier crunchy lettuce (romaine) or a greens mix. Local greens are always preferable, and you can still find farmers who do greenhouse greens in the winter. People will tell you not to cut lettuce but to tear it up with your hands. I don’t find that it makes a difference either way. Always rinse lettuce a few times in a salad spinner and then soak it in very cold water for 5-10 minutes before drying and using it. Unwashed lettuce will usually last about a week in the fridge if it’s fresh. Washed lettuce may last 2-3 days – store it in an airtight container with a folded paper towel to absorb excess moisture. If there isn’t good lettuce to be found, baby spinach makes a nice alternative. You can wash grape or cherry tomatoes with the lettuce.

Cucumber: Local is always better. Generally, the smaller varieties will have more flavor and crunch – I usually use kirbys or small pickling cucumbers. Peel any cucumbers that have been shipped loose – they’re coated with a paraffin layer to protect them.

Tomato: If local tomatoes are in season, use the big ones, preferably heirlooms. They’ll dominate the salad, and when they’re in season that’s probably fine. Otherwise, tomatoes for salad should always be the smaller cherry or grape tomatoes. Out of peak season, these are the only ones that are tolerable, and they get less so as the winter wears on. I usually include them anyway for some color and texture.

Other vegetables: Depending on my mood, I’ll include some diced red, orange or yellow pepper (but almost never green – I’m not that fond of bitter flavors). Cooked beets add a nice sweetness if you like them. Shredded carrots can be nice, but I usually find their flavor too strong. To the detriment of my breath, I’ve been cursed with whatever Eastern European gene causes me to crave raw red onions, especially in the winter. In the summer, I like to use raw local corn.

Animal Protein: I often omit the animal proteins for side salads, but without them it doesn’t really feel like a meal, so I always include at least one in my lunch salads – a hard boiled egg (use eggs that are 2-4 weeks old, start in cold water, bring to a boil, cover, let sit for 8-9 mins, shock in ice water), crumbled bacon, diced leftover chicken or steak, or a few cooked shrimp (thaw frozen shrimp in water, then boil for 3 minutes and shock in ice water).

Fruit: In the summer, this will be a sliced peach or plum, in the fall it’ll be apple or pear. Dried fruits work well – raisins or cranberries. Raisins pair well with honey mustard dressing and bright vinaigrettes, cranberries go better with creamy dressings.

Cheese: I usually avoid cheese, but I have a periodic craving for the combination of blue cheese, roasted garlic vinaigrette, beets, and nuts. I think most cheese doesn’t mix well with dressing, but there are a few combinations that work.

Dressing: My favorite dressing of all time is Brianna’s Poppy Seed Dressing. It’s creamy and thick, and goes with just about everything, and is the exception to my belief that most bottled dressings aren’t very good. I also like some varieties of honey mustard, or I’ll make a vinaigrette. In the summer, I like to make a vinaigrette with a bold raspberry vinegar. Use whatever you like. I’d avoid lowfat dressings, because they generally don’t taste very good. You’re eating a salad instead of a chalupa! You can have a little fat.

Crunch: I like to include at least one crunchy element – croutons or slightly toasted (300F for 6-8 mins) walnuts or pecans. If you buy croutons instead of making your own, look for those without HFCS.

A few suggestions:

My standard winter salad: romaine lettuce, persian pickling cucumbers, grape tomatoes, sliced red onion, diced cold chicken/bacon/hardboiled egg, croutons, dried cranberries, poppy dressing.

My alternate salad: mixed green lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, shrimp, crumbled bacon, diced beets, croutons, plus either raisins and honey mustard dressing or crumbled blue cheese and roasted garlic vinaigrette.

My favorite summer salad: mixed green/red lettuce, cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, sliced red onion, sliced cold skirt/flank steak, raw corn, sliced peaches, croutons, poppy dressing.

Suggest some of your favorites in the comments or on twitter.

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Why I don’t eat High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) Wed, 25 Aug 2010 15:11:25 +0000 adam The following is a catalog of my somewhat unscientific objections to High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), across a number of different axes:

Health / Chemical

It’s not “Just like sugar”

Proponents of HFCS claim that it’s “just like sugar”, but that’s not strictly true. Even the form of HFCS that’s closest in chemical formulation to sucrose is 55% fructose and 45% glucose, which is a liquid at room temperature. Fructose metabolism behaves differently in the absence of glucose, and in practice that ratio seems like enough to tip the scales in that direction.

HFCS is a mixture

HFCS is a mixture, not a compound. In the case of sucrose, it’s a very weak bond between the fructose and the glucose, but there is a bond there that can be used to regulate the rate at which it’s metabolized (cleavage of the disaccharide into glucose and fructose happens in the small intestine). When you eat HFCS, you just dump a bunch of fructose and glucose on your metabolism all at once, to be absorbed as quickly as possible. I haven’t seen any research examining whether this is a problem or not, but it seems like it would be.

Research shows that it can be unhealthy

There is an increasing body of research pointing to excess fructose or HFCS specifically as being responsible for weight gain, raising bad cholesterol levels (see the Personal Experience section at the end) and causing cancers to grow faster.

Other thoughts on Fructose

I don’t know of any research examining whether the fructose in fruit or agave syrup has similar effects. My guess would be that the fructose in fruit is buffered by everything else in the fruit (see the coda on nutritionism at the end) and that agave syrup is probably not great for you either, but I have no evidence to support either of those assertions.



I don’t like the way HFCS tastes – I find that foods sweetened with it have a somewhat sickly flavor, and a lingering unpleasant aftertaste.

HFCS is a marker for cheap ingredients.

Companies that put HFCS in their food do so because it’s cheaper than sugar, not because it’s better than sugar. A few cents extra per loaf of bread makes a huge difference when you’re selling a few million loaves, and it makes a lot less difference when you’re buying one loaf. I try to make as much of my food from ingredients I personally choose, but when I have to buy packaged food, I generally want it to be as good as it can be. In my experience, foods that avoid HFCS also tend to use better ingredients and have better overall quality. I’m disgusted by how difficult it is to find food in the supermarket that doesn’t contain it.


HFCS is an industrial byproduct of corn subsidies. This is a very deep subject with a large number of complex interactions, but one thing is pretty clear — the aggregation of incentives for many farmers line up to cause them to grow lots of corn (and soybeans) to the detriment of other products. Monocultures in farming are generally problematic, and I think we should be encouraging more biodiversity instead of less. Vastly simplified, the government makes it financially attractive for a large number of farmers to grow very few varieties of corn with the use of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides. This increases our dependence on foreign oil, it weakens the basis of our foodstocks, and it gives us a large number of very cheap byproducts that make their way into everything. Michael Pollan has given this subject far more exploration than I could – I highly recommend reading the chapter on corn in The Omnivore’s Dilemma (or the article on which that chapter was based).

Personal Experience

Sometime over the summer of 2008, I made the personal decision to eradicate as much HFCS as possible from my diet. I would no longer voluntarily buy any processed food containing HFCS, and I would make conscious attempts to avoid it. I had my cholesterol checked in June, before I started this experiment, and again in December. During that time period, with no other lifestyle changes, my Triglyceride count dropped by 39 points and my LDL count dropped by 28 points. I attribute this change entirely to the direct and indirect effects of cutting out HFCS – cutting out HFCS itself, cutting out the other processed ingredients that often go along with it, and decreasing my consumption of processed food overall. In actuality, HFCS itself may be entirely benign (though I see little evidence of that), but I feel that removing it from my diet was an unqualified net good. Unfortunately, it’s been impossible to remove entirely, as most restaurants use it. As a result, I’ve been trying to cook at home more (with a little help), which has also been largely a net good.


(Coda on Nutritionism vs. Nutrition)

Michael Pollan makes a really good point about eating whole foods in In Defense of Food (and the essay on which it was based). The whole essay is worth reading, but this section stood out for me:

Also, people don’t eat nutrients, they eat foods, and foods can behave very differently than the nutrients they contain. Researchers have long believed, based on epidemiological comparisons of different populations, that a diet high in fruits and vegetables confers some protection against cancer. So naturally they ask, What nutrients in those plant foods are responsible for that effect? One hypothesis is that the antioxidants in fresh produce — compounds like beta carotene, lycopene, vitamin E, etc. — are the X factor. It makes good sense: these molecules (which plants produce to protect themselves from the highly reactive oxygen atoms produced in photosynthesis) vanquish the free radicals in our bodies, which can damage DNA and initiate cancers. At least that’s how it seems to work in the test tube. Yet as soon as you remove these useful molecules from the context of the whole foods they’re found in, as we’ve done in creating antioxidant supplements, they don’t work at all. Indeed, in the case of beta carotene ingested as a supplement, scientists have discovered that it actually increases the risk of certain cancers. Big oops.

What’s going on here? We don’t know. It could be the vagaries of human digestion. Maybe the fiber (or some other component) in a carrot protects the antioxidant molecules from destruction by stomach acids early in the digestive process. Or it could be that we isolated the wrong antioxidant. Beta is just one of a whole slew of carotenes found in common vegetables; maybe we focused on the wrong one. Or maybe beta carotene works as an antioxidant only in concert with some other plant chemical or process; under other circumstances, it may behave as a pro-oxidant.

Indeed, to look at the chemical composition of any common food plant is to realize just how much complexity lurks within it. Here’s a list of just the antioxidants that have been identified in garden-variety thyme:4-Terpineol, alanine, anethole, apigenin, ascorbic acid, beta carotene, caffeic acid, camphene, carvacrol, chlorogenic acid, chrysoeriol, eriodictyol, eugenol, ferulic acid, gallic acid, gamma-terpinene isochlorogenic acid, isoeugenol, isothymonin, kaempferol, labiatic acid, lauric acid, linalyl acetate, luteolin, methionine, myrcene, myristic acid, naringenin, oleanolic acid, p-coumoric acid, p-hydroxy-benzoic acid, palmitic acid, rosmarinic acid, selenium, tannin, thymol, tryptophan, ursolic acid, vanillic acid.

This is what you’re ingesting when you eat food flavored with thyme. Some of these chemicals are broken down by your digestion, but others are going on to do undetermined things to your body: turning some gene’s expression on or off, perhaps, or heading off a free radical before it disturbs a strand of DNA deep in some cell. It would be great to know how this all works, but in the meantime we can enjoy thyme in the knowledge that it probably doesn’t do any harm (since people have been eating it forever) and that it may actually do some good (since people have been eating it forever) and that even if it does nothing, we like the way it tastes.



I think that about covers it. I welcome comments.


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Cooking at home is different Thu, 15 Oct 2009 20:07:23 +0000 adam There’s a bit of a debate going on about whether the lack of cooking at home is responsible for people eating unhealthily. Matt Yglesias has a piece arguing that cooking at home isn’t fundamentally different from restaurant cooking, and “If someone – Jamie Oliver, for example – devised an appealing mass-market food product that was better than Taco Bell on the taste/price/convenience dimension but also healthier, well that would be an excellent thing for the world.” Well, it sure would. It would be nice if someone could make a car that drives like a BMW but doesn’t use any gas and costs less than $1000 too.

“Cooking yourself” is not the point. “Cooking at home” is. This is because home cooking is different from restaurant cooking, and yes, there is a fundamental difference between food you prepare for yourself and food prepared by other people, at least when the latter is in a commercial/restaurant context. Unless you have a private chef, food prepared for you by other people is food prepared for… whomever. This difference is largest at scale. Industrial food is the way it is because it’s designed to be made/prepared/”made” by people with no skill at cooking for a clientele who may show up at any time and want what they want, and when you do that, you lose all kinds of properties of the food that go into making it healthier. You lose varietal selection. You lose focus on balance. You lose accounting for individual tastes. You lose someone insisting that you eat your vegetables (both because they’re good for you and also because whoever cooked them put a lot of effort into making them for you). You lose incentive to not use cheaper ingredients (or at least you divorce yourself from that decision). You lose incentive to not use flavor boosters that are unhealthy. You lose the ability to make food on demand, so there’s incentive to use ingredients that will store better. Fine cuisine doesn’t fare much better, because it’s not optimized for health, but for flavor and pleasure.

Healthy food has a lot of properties that are, I think, inherently unscalable. Saying that restaurants should offer cheap healthy options is not understanding the problem. Yes, cooking at home is a lot of work, and sometimes that takes away from the time you could be using to watch a movie or read a blog, but the benefits are immense, and they won’t realistically ever come out of a restaurant. Is that really such a bad thing?

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Toys and Testing Wed, 10 Dec 2008 22:37:38 +0000 adam BoingBoing reports that new rules on consumer safety threaten to put small producers out of business because the testing is too expensive.

I have a few thoughts on this.

This is a pretty common libertarian vs. nanny state disagreement – should consumers be allowed to make their own choices, but I don’t think it’s that simple, for a few reasons. (Before you go on, I think it’s worth reading my previous piece on some failure modes of the market.)

Keeping toxic chemicals out of kids toys can’t really be the responsibility of the parents, because it’s not within their domain of control. You can be a responsible parent, you can only buy toys you “trust” (whatever that means) and your child will still be exposed to toys you didn’t have any say about. It’s unavoidable – other kids have toys, day care centers have toys, kids play with toys in the playground that other kids bring or leave behind. The only way to prevent these toys from coming into contact with kids is to keep them out of the marketplace to begin with. If you like, it’s society’s responsibility to keep poisons out of kids’ toys in general, because the incentives don’t line up for the individual actors.

After-the-fact deterrents are simply not effective. Lawsuits take years to resolve, are overly burdensome, and it may be impossible to even track down the responsible party (I’m told it’s nearly impossible to sue a foreign company). On top of that, even an expensive PR-nightmare lawsuit may not be a sufficient deterrent to a large corporation with a hefty legal budget. A few million dollar settlements can seem very small in the face of a few hundred million in profits per year. Also, it’s worth noting that this is a reactive response which doesn’t actually fix the problem, but tries to throw monetary compensation in an attempt to “make things better”. But that’s basically what we’re being asked to accept here with the free market solution – let us do what we want and if you don’t like it, sue us, because it’s “too expensive” to ensure that we make safe products. We have that prefrontal cortex for a reason – people are uniquely capable of making predictive decisions, and to allow reactive forces to handle problems we can plainly see are coming seems ridicuously primitive to me. One might argue that we don’t have the capacity to predict how our actions might affect these complex systems, but that’s exactly why we need to be able to adapt and tweak them as we go. I haven’t seen any evidence that the market makes better choices in these kinds of situations, and in fact the call for regulation is a response to the failure of market forces – these companies have already shown an inability to keep toxic ingredients out of their products, yet we still continue to have these problems. Public outrage and whatever lawsuits are currently in the pipeline haven’t served as an adequate deterrent. Why’s that? I don’t know.

This is similar to the conundrum faced by small food producers. See Joel Salatin’s Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal for a lot of good examples of this. The main thrust is that the rules that are meant for large corporations where the overhead gets absorbed by the scale are overly burdensome for small producers, who don’t have the resources for dedicated testing facilities but also have less capacity to do harm, both because they have fewer customers but also because some kinds of harm are caused by the steps needed to operate at scale in the first place. I like to buy local food from farmers that I’ve come to know and trust. This can work at a small scale – if I want to see their operation, I can go visit the farm. I have no similar way to verify that with a larger company.

I don’t think that broken regulation is a condemnation of the entire idea of regulation, but I think it’s obvious that the rules need to be different depending on the scale of the domain they apply to. It is not unreasonable for Hasbro and Mattel to have to follow different rules than the guy who’s carving wood figures in his garage and selling them on etsy. Scale matters – more is different, and bigger is different.

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Why I eat what I eat. Sat, 01 Nov 2008 19:20:15 +0000 adam Some number of years ago, I used to think that the ability to get any kind of fresh produce any time of the year was a mark of an advanced global civilization. We had conquered a small piece of space and time and weather to bring me blueberries in February. More recently, we lived for over a year in the shadow of the neighborhood that used to belong to the World Trade Center. I don’t want to talk about that right now, but it serves to highlight a personal revelation. When we moved, we moved to a new neighborhood, a new breath of fresh air. And a farmer’s market opened, literally, right outside my door.

After my first visit, I started making it a point to go every Friday morning, even in the dead of winter, just to see what new bounty would be there. It began with fruit and vegetables, and as I explored more, eggs, milk, breads, and eventually meat. Each new discovery reminded me of what potential could be held by a simple item of food. A peach — this is what a peach is supposed to taste like. The word “luscious” really does not fully convey the impact of biting into a local peach at the height of the season. Apples as tart as you like, strawberries with no white center to be seen, blueberries both sweet and tart at the same time, carrots you can eat without peeling them. This food was not only better for you, it was simply better, in every respect that mattered.

And then August came, and I got to the tomatoes. The tomatoes made me a lifelong convert – the drawn line between “there’s a market there” and “I need to go to the market”. A supermarket tomato is not even in the same vocabulary as a fresh, ripe, local market tomato. Flavor, texture, aroma – it’s just unfair to even do a comparison.

Of course, there’s a tradeoff here. Eating seasonally means you relish every bite until you can’t stand it anymore, because you know that it won’t last. Most crops have a few months, but some last only a few weeks. There are cycles for everything – they come in and they’re not quite ready yet, then the next week or two they’re perfect, then they’re gone until next year. Hopefully by that time you’ve been able to eat your fill to hold you until next year, but then there’s something else wonderful that takes its place. Peas move to berries move to tomatoes move to root vegetables.

The jury’s still out, but the evidence points to organic and sustainable food being healthier. It appears that plants are more nutritious when they have to defend themselves from pests. Garbage in, garbage out — I don’t want to eat vegetables that are made entirely of petrochemical fertilizers in the same way that I don’t want to eat meat that’s made entirely of corn. I don’t voluntarily buy anything that has high fructose corn syrup in it, and you won’t find any of that at the market.

And it’s not just about the food. Yes, it’s better, and everything I can buy at the market, I do. But it’s also about confidence, and community in one of the oldest senses of the word. I know these farmers. I have recently visited one of the farms and plan to go see more. They stand behind their food. I know, for the most part, which ones use pesticides and which ones don’t, and I can see the relative effects that has on the quality of their food. I’m not afraid to eat their eggs raw or undercook my burger.

Seasonal/local is not organic. That’s not to say that organic is bad, but they’re not the same thing. Organic doesn’t necessarily equate to sustainable, or even high quality. All other factors being equal, organic tends to be the better choice, but it’s not the whole answer. A local food may in fact not be the best choice, but at least if you have a question about it, you can often talk to the farmer directly and get whatever answers you’re looking for.

And so – my buying patterns: I always shop at the market first. If I can get something there, I do. The quality is always better, it is certainly healthier, it has a lower carbon footprint when you factor in the petrochemicals they don’t use to fertilize, keep the pests away, and get it to you, and all of the farms at my markets are committed to sustainable farming practices. Plus, I like them personally and I want to give them my business. Shopping at the market isn’t always numerically competetive, but it is always value competetive – if something is 1.5x more at the market, it’s likely 5-10x better.

For the things I can’t find at the market, I do try to buy organic, and I try to ensure that they’re seasonal somewhere. For example, I don’t buy oranges from Florida in July. Not only is there no reason to given the abundance of other wonderful fruits here, they’re just not as good as the ones in January. Organic is usually preferable, because I think that food is healthier and better for the planet than “conventional” (whatever that really means).

I’m not a die-hard localist. I still buy coffee, and I eat imported Italian canned tomatoes when I can’t find good ones here. I love to cook, and shopping at the market simultaneously makes some decisions easier (I make what’s good that week) and improves my results. But what it really comes down to is that I’m committed to procuring for my family and friends the best food we can have while supporting people who love food as much as I do.

This is a healthy food chain. It’s good for the planet, it’s good for the farmers, it’s good for the plants and animals, and it’s good for us. Every little bit makes a difference.

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Fed up with food labeling Mon, 03 Mar 2008 15:59:29 +0000 adam Our food labeling standards are completely out of whack.

As an example, let’s take “100% fruit juice”. I’m pretty sure that at some point, “100% fruit juice” meant that what you got in the bottle was, prior to being put in the bottle, a piece of fruit that was crushed and maybe filtered. I’m 100% sure that that’s what most people still expect when they buy something that’s labeled “100% fruit juice”.

Except that’s not what you get anymore. Now, it’s reconstituted from concentrates, mixed from different kinds of fruit juice concentrates (which may have vastly different nutritional profiles), and blended into whatever they like, but it’s still the healthy choice kids, because it’s 100% fruit juice!

Right off the labels:

Kedem concord grape juice (which, incidentally, is among the sweetest of the grapes):

The label says “100% fruit juice”.

Ingredients: Grape Juice, Potassium Metabisulfite Added To Enhance Freshness.

It has 150 calories per 8oz.

Welch’s grape juice:

The label says “100% grape juice”.

Ingredients: Grape Juice From Concentrate (Water, Grape Juice Concentrate), Grape Juice, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), No Artificial Flavors Or Colors Added.

It has 170 calories per 8 oz.


They’re not using grapes that have 13% more sugar in them, they’re dickering with the proportions to make their juice sweeter.

This is just one particularly egregious example, but it’s all over the place – many “100% juices” are sweetened with cherry juice or other concentrates. It’s a complete sham. Even the Kedem is pushing it because it’s got preservatives, but at least the juice is actual juice. No way does that Welch’s bottle contain “100% juice”.

Our food labels don’t mean what they say anymore, they have very detailed technical specifications to go with them, and it’s impossible to know what they mean from common sense without understanding those specifications. This isn’t even about making dubious health claims – it’s about defining away the actual contents of the package.

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Circo Hazardous Sock Packaging Tue, 01 May 2007 19:27:49 +0000 adam I happened to take my 6-month old to Target this weekend, and we bought him some socks. He was playing with the package and put them in his mouth, and managed to get the little hanger plastic piece out. There’s certainly enough to say about parental responsibility, and not letting the baby get into dangerous things, but until this little plastic piece disappeared (it turns out he dropped it on the floor), we didn’t even give a second thought to the idea that a pair of socks for a 6-12 month old might contain this kind of incredible choking hazard. I’m normally pretty paranoid about this. Didn’t these things used to go all the way across? Is this REALLY the place where Target wants to save a tenth of a cent of plastic? It seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Be careful out there…

Circo Socks Hazardous Packaging

Circo Socks Hazardous Packaging

Circo Socks Hazardous Packaging

Circo Socks Hazardous Packaging

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Cadbury got busted for reducing the size of the Creme Egg and then lying about it Fri, 13 Apr 2007 20:31:28 +0000 adam I used to get a Cadbury Creme Egg a year about the same time I had my annual McRib. Since I’ve realized over the course of the past few years that you’re only supposed to eat food, I didn’t know that Cadbury reduced the size of the Creme Egg this year. And then they lied about it! And they blamed it on the increasing size of their consumers (possibly from eating too many Creme Eggs)! And then they got busted on National TV! At least they could have had the dignity to release the “New Creme Egg”, and then release the “Creme Egg Classic” in the smaller form factor when people complained about the new formula.

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Open letter to Apple asking for help improving medical design Fri, 13 Apr 2007 20:22:02 +0000 adam

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Autonomous robot does heart surgery! Sat, 20 May 2006 14:28:05 +0000 adam Wow, the future is now!

The Italian expert has used the robot surgeon for at least 40 previous operations, some of which have been described in detail in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The novelty of this latest experience is that the robot was able to conduct the entire procedure by itself. In the past it needed specific orders from its operator along the way.

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Tamiflu goes open source Fri, 12 May 2006 01:49:38 +0000 adam

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Flash physics engine Tue, 28 Feb 2006 18:17:37 +0000 adam Someone had fun with the Flash physics engine.

Warning: not porn, but does include bra-related breast physics.

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Retiring to a perpetual cruise Tue, 21 Feb 2006 17:11:41 +0000 adam Interesting tidbit from Snopes, via (Kottke).

Apparently, it’s about the same price to take a perpetual cruise as it is to live in a nursing home, and at least a few people have been doing this for years.

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Pigeon smog blog Fri, 03 Feb 2006 18:42:17 +0000 adam Scientists at UC Irvine are planning to equip pigeons with small bird-sized backpacks containing pollution detectors, GPS, and wireless data access, so they can post realtime smog data to a blog.

The mind boggles.

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Watercone Thu, 02 Feb 2006 23:35:39 +0000 adam This is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s a low-cost portable still for purifying water with a pretty ingenious design.

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MIT students study tinfoil hats Fri, 11 Nov 2005 19:51:47 +0000 adam Conclusion: tinfoil hat makes it easier for the gummint to read your brain. It’s a conspiracy!

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Ribosome simulated Tue, 25 Oct 2005 13:26:59 +0000 adam This is incredibly cool. A complete working ribosome has been described in a computer simulation.

Via Perry:

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“No 911″ sticker for VOIP phones Wed, 12 Oct 2005 15:30:45 +0000 adam Some VOIP and computer phones don’t support 911 dialing in a way that’s equal to the conventional phone system. In an emergency, you probably don’t want to accidentally grab the wrong phone and use it to dial 911.

I sell a set of stickers that you can cut out and stick on phones that don’t support 911:

[Update: 50% of all profits from this will be donated to the EFF.]

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Assless Panties Thu, 04 Aug 2005 19:47:49 +0000 adam

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ICE – not a bad idea Tue, 19 Jul 2005 14:20:31 +0000 adam Clever solution to a problem.

Put a contact in your phone that starts with ICE (In Case of Emergency). That way, if you’re ever incapacitated and someone finds your phone, they know which of the many entries to call.

This seems to be getting some press coverage, so I suppose there’s a chance before not too long that emergency responders will actually know to check.

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We’re just going to deal with the fact that people die from time to time Sat, 02 Jul 2005 02:53:18 +0000 adam /?p=845 Kottke asks:

As members of the human species, we’re used to dealing with the death of people we “know” in amounts in the low hundreds over the course of a lifetime. With higher life expectancies and the increased number of people known to each of us (particularly in the hypernetworked part of the world), how are we going to handle it when several thousand people we know die over the course of our lifetime?

Interesting question. I think, like everything else, the lack of novelty will acclimate us to the experience and we’ll just get used to the fact that lots of people we know will come out of our lives as easily as they entered.

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Google maps hack to display Iraq casualties Wed, 29 Jun 2005 14:31:17 +0000 adam /?p=839 Via hackaday:

[Update: another map (not a Google map), this one with casualties plotted over time by country and location in Iraq:]

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Environmental impact of mass buckyballs is unknown Tue, 28 Jun 2005 15:29:15 +0000 adam /?p=837 Apparently, it’s just been discovered that buckyballs are water-soluble and antibacterial.

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Rocks? Thu, 09 Jun 2005 21:37:47 +0000 adam /?p=801 So, this is an article about how high-altitude mountain climbers have high instances of gastroenteritis because other climbers are shitting in the woods instead of disposing of it properly, and when it’s freezing cold, washing your hands with soap apparently isn’t a high priority.

But it goes on to say:

“Furthermore, fewer than half said they always washed their hands after defecating, with 16% admitting using rocks and snow instead of toilet paper. A shameful 11% confessed to pooping directly into the snow.”


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Orgy porn is good for (producing) children Thu, 09 Jun 2005 21:31:15 +0000 adam /?p=800 “Men who view pornographic images of two men and a woman produce better-quality sperm than men viewing pornographic images of just women, an Australian study reveals.

The finding suggests that humans may be capable of subconsciously increasing semen quality when faced with the possibility that their sperm will have to outrun those of other men in a womans reproductive tract.”

This does not, however, explain hot girl-on-girl action.

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Bacterial control without antibiotics Tue, 07 Jun 2005 14:09:41 +0000 adam /?p=792 Seems like pretty big news.

‘Only recently has it been discovered that the bacteria assembled in biofilms have a network of communication between them called “quorum sensing,” which controls their collective activity (or lack thereof). These sensing signals control the physiology and pathogenicity of the bacteria in the biofilms. A boron-based molecule that is produced by these bacteria, called auto inducer-2, controls the signals in this quorum sensing process.’

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Heroin addiction gene identified and blocked in rats Tue, 31 May 2005 15:36:50 +0000 adam /?p=774 “Scientists have not only identified a critical gene involved in heroin addiction relapse, but they have also successfully blocked it, eliminating cravings for the drug.”

That’s huge.

It sounds like it doesn’t block the effects of the drug, only the cravings. I wonder if that means that more people will be inclined to try heroin. Of course, that’s not a good reason not to do it.

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As if that’s important. Wed, 25 May 2005 00:55:34 +0000 adam /?p=761 “Researchers Pinpoint Brain’s Sarcasm Sensor”

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Moisturewear Mon, 23 May 2005 15:27:04 +0000 adam /?p=752 Underwear that moisturizes your skin while you wear it.

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Super water kills microbes, harmless to humans Mon, 16 May 2005 20:30:31 +0000 adam /?p=738 “The solution looks, smells and tastes like water, but carries an ion imbalance that makes short work of bacteria, viruses and even hard-to-kill spores.”,1286,67472,00.html?tw=rss.TOP

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Blood spinning Mon, 16 May 2005 12:35:37 +0000 adam /?p=737 Apparently, there’s a way to centrifuge your own blood to concentrate its mystical healing powers, and this is illegal according to some sports.

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New fuel cell runs on blood Sat, 14 May 2005 14:33:53 +0000 adam /?p=736 Via jwz:

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Non-allergenic latex Fri, 13 May 2005 04:35:14 +0000 adam /?p=734

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If you need to start a fire by polishing the bottom of a coke can with chocolate, you’re probably not reading this blog right now Thu, 28 Apr 2005 03:42:55 +0000 adam /?p=706 But, you never know when this knowledge might come in handy later.

If, perchance, you need this at some point in the future, and it saves your ass, I expect you to take me out for dinner at Lugers.

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New food pyramid contains recommendations to eat mercury Tue, 26 Apr 2005 14:49:17 +0000 adam /?p=705

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Foodsaver guide to estimating portion sizes Sun, 24 Apr 2005 14:40:51 +0000 adam /?p=702 I love my Foodsaver – I use it all the time for sealing bulk items for storage, particularly meats for freezing.

They have a good guide to estimating portion sizes by comparison to real-world physical objects.

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Foodsaver guide to estimating portion sizes Sun, 24 Apr 2005 14:40:46 +0000 adam /?p=701 I love my Foodsaver – I use it all the time for sealing bulk items for storage, particularly meats for freezing.

They have a good guide to estimating portion sizes by comparison to real-world physical objects.

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Newly designed prescription bottle adopted by Target Tue, 19 Apr 2005 23:21:42 +0000 adam /?p=697

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Rent a Dildo Mon, 18 Apr 2005 22:03:45 +0000 adam /?p=695 Yick.

(Given their rental model, I’d have gone with something like “NetPrix” instead of the name they chose.)

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Blue light may replace your toothbrush Tue, 05 Apr 2005 18:49:47 +0000 adam /?p=682

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How not to get hit by cars Mon, 04 Apr 2005 13:56:45 +0000 adam /?p=678 Interesting tips on bike riding safety and common accident types.

(Update: Novitz points out this link, which is much better:

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Evidence that cells may be able to restore from ancestral genetic backups Wed, 23 Mar 2005 16:55:59 +0000 adam /?p=659 Wow.

A study was was published this week in Nature that “suggests that plants, and perhaps other organisms including humans, might possess a back-up mechanism that can bypass unhealthy sequences from their parents and revert to the healthier genetic code possessed by their grandparents or great-grandparents.”

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“10 Things I Have Learned” Thu, 10 Mar 2005 02:31:18 +0000 adam /?p=620 Interesting read. Basically, be true to thine own self, be honest with others, and some people just suck.

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Prion-inactivating detergent Tue, 08 Mar 2005 03:01:02 +0000 adam /?p=615 For cleaning surgical instruments potentially contaminated with vCJD and other prions.

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First implantable male contraceptive Tue, 01 Feb 2005 05:13:51 +0000 adam /?p=547 “Several clinical trials on rats, primates and humans have shown that the IVD effectively stops the flow of sperm, said Pollock, who’s from Vancouver.

Normal sperm flow would resume after the device is removed, he said, compared to reversing a vasectomy, which lowers the chance of pregnancy to about 60 per cent. ”

So… it blocks sperm… which then goes where?

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Weyco no longer employs smokers Thu, 27 Jan 2005 20:50:34 +0000 adam /?p=538

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She’s starting to stabilize Wed, 26 Jan 2005 04:20:01 +0000 adam /?p=536 My friend in the hospital is starting to stabilize. She’s had multiple open brain surgeries now, but it looks hopeful that she won’t need any more surgery. She’s got a long way to go, and she’ll still likely be in the ICU for a few months, but at least her condition isn’t currently actively life-threatening. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days feeling relatively powerless, and putting a lot of my energy into just being there for her family, and helping to organize friends and family for getting news out and scheduling people to come visit.

Many thanks to the open source projects PHPScheduleIt and Wordpress.

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This is really brutal Mon, 24 Jan 2005 01:08:49 +0000 adam /?p=535 A very close friend of mine is currently in very critical condition following multiple open surgeries to address a ruptured aneurysm and consequential cerebral hemorrhaging. Results are day by day, and it will be several weeks before there’s any inkling of the extent of the damage, which is certainly non-trivial. The best current projected scenario is that she’ll need a month in the ICU followed by a year or more of physical and cognitive therapy, and she has a chance to regain full mental and physical capacity. But the nature of these things is that anything can happen, and all possible outcomes are still on the table.

I don’t have any energy for blogging right now.

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